I came across the following quotation in a gorgeous Fortune Favours The Brave by Lisa Congdon. It resonated hugely with my current experience of writing. It also tapped into one of the questions I get asked frequently by readers: how do I find inspiration for my stories.
The awesome Anaïs Nin puts it brilliantly: ideas do not come down as a thunderbolt, they doesn’t arrive all at once, in a flash of inspiration – rather they come incrementally, they come from sitting at a desk with our notepads open, they come from planning new scenes, they come from watching and listening to the world – they come from leaving the doors to our souls open.
There are several words and phrases that carry truth in this quotation. ‘Fragment by fragment’ suggests the the ideas come piece by piece, that writing is a gradual fitting together. I’m experiencing this at the moment with my third novel, out in January 2017. I spend time focusing on one of my viewpoint characters, Jonah, and suddenly get an insight into a key scene which needs to be written and as I map out that key scene, I get an idea for a theme I’d like to explore, or a technique I’d like to use to make my ideas come to life. Fragments suggest something incomplete, ready to be put together.
I’ve often found that archaeology is one of the jobs which most accurately mirrors that of a writer.
We know that there’s truth underground. We put on our wellies, get out our tools and start scraping at the earth. And then we pull up fragments. And we keep going, digging and shovelling and carefully pulling out treasures until the fragments begin to form a picture.
I also love her use of the word ‘cellular’ which suggests something living and organic, something that is full of the promise of life, much like the cells coming together to form an embryo.
Ideas are, in their first stages, embryonic – and then, over time, with a good dose of love and nurturing, they grow and come to life.
I still cannot get my head around the fact that my nearly two year old Tennessee Skye, now spinning around the living room and asking to be held upside down and absolutely clear about what she does or does not like or will or will not do, started out as a bunch of tiny, tiny cells that came together one night through an act of love.
And finally, the word ‘laborious’, which to some might sound a little negative, but to me is hugely reassuring.
In the end, the creation of something as magical as novel, is not so much down to that slippery, fickle character: talent. Instead, it’s down to our more faithful friend, the workman.
A novel is created through the hours are writer sits at her desk, through the ‘labour’ (which also has wonderful connotations of birth) that she commits to her creation.
We can all do this, can’t we? Start with fragments and then work at them. We don’t need genius. We don’t need to be one of those clever, shiny people. We don’t need a beautiful big desk overlooking a lake and mountains. We just need a pair of metaphorical wellies (real ones are fun too, puddle-jupming being a great antidote to sitting for too long), a good shovel, some gloves to avoid damaging our fragments and then the motivation to keep working at it until the treasure comes to the surface.